Mujahidin, mujahidat

Balancing gender in the struggle of Jihadi-Salafis

Authored by: Nathan S. French

The Routledge Handbook of Islam and Gender

Print publication date:  November  2020
Online publication date:  November  2020

Print ISBN: 9780815367772
eBook ISBN: 9781351256568
Adobe ISBN:


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With the eruption of ISIS fighters across the Syrian and Iraqi border in 2014, journalists and policy makers attempted to develop a functional vocabulary to account for the dramatic rise in women wishing to struggle in the cause of Abu Bakr Baghdadi’s self-declared caliphate. At times, such attempts result in media narratives that define the subjectivity and agency of these women against those of their husbands and children. Thus, women joining the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), are not defined relative to their self-understood – or performed roles – but instead are ‘Jihadi brides,’ ‘ISIS wives,’ ‘ISIS widows,’ or are ‘ISIS mothers.’ These titles simplify the complex push/pull factors for these women, which change relative to location, religious identity (e.g. conversion narratives), socioeconomic status, and various other factors. This chapter challenges this simplification by tracing the evolution Jihadi-Salafi discussions of the ‘women who struggle,’ the mujāhidāt. This evolution of this discussion within Jihadi-Salafi discourse reveals three roles for mujāhidāt, in the cause of God: a passive femininity requiring purification, the woman as active participant, and the woman as embodiment of renunciative ideals.

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